Declaring there would be no irreparable harm, Chief Justice William Rehnquist refused Friday to spare President Clinton's Secret Service protectors from testifying in the Monica Lewinsky case. With the dramatic legal fight ended, prosecutors summoned the officers to the grand jury.
With the subpoenaed Secret Service officers waiting at the courthouse a few blocks away, Rehnquist issued a two-page ruling at 11:56 a.m. that refused to extend an earlier order that had blocked their testimony until noon.The guards, including agent Larry Cockell, who heads Clinton's protective detail, were whisked up to the third floor where the grand jury hears testimony. An hour later, they had not yet testified, a lawyer said.
"In my view, the (administration) has not demonstrated that denying a stay and enforcing the subpoenas would cause irreparable harm," the chief justice wrote Friday.
Rehnquist, who just returned from a European trip, said that while he was not ruling on the administration request to review the entire legal dispute he assumed enough of his colleagues might choose to take the case at a later date.
"I shall assume, without deciding, that four members of this court would grant certiorari," he wrote.
Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg said the department had no plans to exercise its right to ask other Supreme Court justices for an emergency stay.
The grand jury that has been hearing the Lewinsky case was not in session today. Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr planned to use a different grand jury - making an emphatic statement by insisting the agents be questioned on a Friday afternoon.
Cockell's attorney, John Kotelly, said it would be difficult for the agent to testify in a case involving the man he protects but that he planned to answer all questions posed to him.
"He is a law enforcement agent and he believes strongly in the rule of law, and he will follow the law as he is directed to by the courts," Kotelly said.
In a court filing earlier Friday, Starr said he would limit his questioning to events prior to today, and probably would not call all the seven officers he subpoenaed right away.
"At least until this court issues a final ruling, we will not question any officers and agents about on-duty `protective-function' observations that occur on or after this date (July 17)," Starr wrote.
Rehnquist said he did not forward the question of the temporary order to the full Supreme Court because many of the justices were out of the country. "The opinion of the court of appeals seems to me cogent and correct," he added.
The grand jury is investigating possible encouragement of perjury, witness tampering and obstruction in an alleged sexual relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky.
The Clinton administration is seeking creation of a new legal privilege that would allow Secret Service agents to avoid testifying about what they saw and heard while guarding the president. It may still get one last chance to make arguments if the full Supreme Court takes the case.
A district federal judge, a three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel and, Thursday, the full 11-member appellate court here, all ruled the agents must testify. They agreed with Starr's position that there is no legal privilege to avoid cooperating with a criminal investigation.
So crushing a defeat was Thursday's ruling - on an administration request for the full court to reconsider the case - that not a single judge requested a vote to hear arguments.